The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown

Goodnight Moon (1947) is Margaret Wise Brown's most famous book. It's terrific, without a doubt. It entertained my kids several dozen times when they were little. But I won't shed a tear if I never read it again. Brown's less-well known children's book, The Important Book, is her magnum opus. Goodnight Moon has pleasant rhymes, but The Important Book (1949) is true poetry about perceiving the world around us, and my wife and I both felt moved whenever we read it to our kids.

The title page of the book has a tiny image of a book and an illustration of a cricket:

The important thing
about a cricket is
that it is black.
It chirps,
it hops,
it jumps,
and sings all through the summer night.
But the important thing
about a cricket is
that it is black.

The other pages identify the important things about daisies, glass, water, shoes, spoons, and other common items, celebrating the mystery in the ordinary. Leonard Weisgard's color illustrations are rendered with a kind of quiet surrealism that increases the impact of Brown's writing.

The Important Book rekindles the sense of wonder we were born with.

The Important Book


  1. Thank you for sharing this book.  It has come up in discussions about poetry, great books, and main idea lessons with my teacher colleagues.  The only objection we had to it was the use of the word white twice.  The main thing about snow, from the point of view of Vermonters, is not that it is white.  She could have said cold, unique, or quiet.  

    1.  I think one of the great things about the book is that for each one, you can ask the person reading it with you, ‘What do YOU think is the most important thing about ______?

      1. That would be a good way to figure out if your child was primarily visual, auditory or kinesthetic.

  2. I freely admit my ignorance: I am reading now for this first time about this book (I might partially be excused by my not hailing from an English-speaking country). But, is it me, or is there a heavy irony in these verses? Is it a way of saying not to stop at the superficial impression given by the colour?

    1. Not just you. Everything really descriptive of the object is in the center of each stanza, not the “important” thing about it.

  3. And frankly, the important thing about an apple is how it tastes, not that it’s red. That page always bugged me…

  4. Mark, thanks again for another great kid’s recommendation. I have been collecting children’s lit for about 12 years. I originally started by collecting the books that were important to me as a child like the Ramona series and everything by Roald Dahl, but found so much neat looking stuff at library and garage sales that it became quite a substantial collection. Now that I have 7 year old twins I have gotten a chance to read them through completely different… um, ears? One of the things that is most striking about children’s lit when experienced by a child (or together with a child) is how the tone and rhythm of the language plays such an incredibly important role in their readability and the probability that the children and parent will be transported. Margaret Wise Brown was someone I easily would have written off, but after reading her works literally hundreds of times I can honestly say that she is the absolute master of writing in a tone perfectly designed to chill a child out before bedtime while giving them beautiful thoughts to sleep to. I never would have thought a thing about “Goodnight Moon” if I hadn’t read it to the children.

    Having said all of that, I would like to offer my own MWB recommendations:

    First off, a really fun and charming book called “The Story of Ping”. A tale about a little runt of a duck living on a junk boat on the Yangtze River. It speaks so much to the unnamable fears of childhood and how they are so often misunderstood by their protectors.

    And then there’s “The Dead Bird”, a story about a group of children playing in the woods who stumble across a freshly dead bird. Not having much a frame of reference for established bereavement customs the children celebrate the life of the bird and mourn it’s death in an incredibly elegant and profoundly child-like way. Her empathy for the thought process of children is staggering in this one.

    And lastly, one of my all-time favorite bed-time stories, “The Whispering Rabbit”. The language is a bit awkward at first, but her use of capitalization (no, really) does so much to inform the reader of the tone that after a read or two it becomes the most gentle of siren songs.

    Thanks for giving me a soapbox to spout from. She is such a great and empathetic author that she really deserves to have her whole catalogue celebrated!

  5. Is this book about racism, or am I way off base?

    I only know what I see on this post, but it seems to me that making color the important thing about these objects is really a way of pointing out how unimportant color is compared to other characteristics.

    1.  My initial thought was wondering why the most important things seemed to be about color. The book would only work for me if I was deliberately pointing out that the first and last sentence on each page were not necessarily true,

  6. As a speech language pathologist, I use this book to teach a
    variety of language skills.  When I work
    with this book with kids, we talk about the book giving the author’s opinion of
    what is important and that other people may find other attributes of an object
    the more important.  One of the important
    lessons from this book is how it uses language to describe, not necessarily
    that we can all agree on the most important attribute of an object. 

    My personal favorite Margaret Wise Brown book is ‘The Little
    Fur Family’.  I especially like the
    edition that is tiny and covered in fur. 
    But, ‘The Important Book’ makes for better speech therapy material.  

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